Elementary principal dies in car crash Raymond Mathias headed Carroll Co. school for 17 years; 'A devastating loss'; His vehicle was hit by tractor-trailer at intersection


A longtime and much-admired principal in Carroll County was killed yesterday when a truck hit his car broadside near Winfield Elementary School, where he had worked for 18 years.

Raymond Mathias, 52, of Westminster was about a half-mile from the school, traveling north on Woodbine Road near Winfield at 12: 35 p.m., state police said. A tractor-trailer loaded with drywall was heading west on Route 26 and apparently ran a red light, hitting Mathias's 1991 Pontiac Grand Am, police said.

Mathias was dead at the scene, police said. The driver of the Ford rig, Robert Emerson, 44, of Bear, Del. was taken to Carroll County General Hospital, where he was in stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said yesterday.

Mathias' friends and colleagues recalled last night his devotion to Winfield Elementary and its community.

"It's a devastating loss to the school system and in particular to the Winfield school," said Vernon Smith, director of school support services, who was a first-year teacher with Mathias at Eldersburg Elementary School in the early 1970s.

Pupils at Winfield Elementary were not told of Mathias' death because school officials did not receive confirmation until 3: 30 p.m. yesterday. Teachers have been given written statements to read to pupils this morning, and a crisis counseling team will be at Winfield today to assist pupils and faculty.

"Everybody's in shock," said William Hyde, assistant superintendent for administration. "It's a real loss. He was just a real solid person, a dedicated professional and fine human being."

School system colleagues, who worked with Mathias in his early years as a teacher, remembered him fondly yesterday.

"The kids always loved him," said Smith. "I'll always remember his warm personality and big friendly smile."

Mathias began his career in education in 1973 as a fifth-grade teacher at Eldersburg Elementary School.

Larry Thompson, who taught with Mathias at Eldersburg, recalled that his friend also gave music lessons at Stu's Music Shop to augment his beginning teacher's salary.

"Like all the rest of us trying to make ends meet, he did part-time work," said Thompson, now principal at Freedom Elementary School.

Mathias also taught at Robert Moton Elementary School before becoming assistant principal at Manchester Elementary in 1977.

He served as assistant principal at Winfield in 1980, and was named principal there a year later.

Mathias and the school were a good fit, Thompson said.

"You don't stay in a community when people don't like you," said Thompson. "It's really a credit to him that he stayed there."

Friends outside of the school system recalled Mathias as a devoted father to his children Chad, 20, and Heather, 23. They said he was involved in many community activities.

Rick Gagnon, who has known Mathias since high school, remembers his friend as a dedicated soccer coach who led teams to several county championships.

"He coached teams from 10-year-olds to 16-year-olds, mostly teams on which his son played," said Gagnon. "He idolized his son, Chad."

Gagnon and Mathias were frequent golf partners, along with Chad.

"We were looking forward to playing this weekend," said Gagnon. "Ray would play anywhere the sun would shine, and sometimes in the rain. He was an avid and excellent golfer. Chad played with him all the time."

Zeno Fisher has been Mathias' neighbor in Smallwood for more than 20 years.

"Whenever I saw him, I would ask him when he was going to retire and enjoy life," Fisher said. "He always said he was not ready yet."

Friends said Mathias grew up in Carroll County and graduated from Westminster High School. He served in the military and graduated from what was then Towson State College. His wife, Terry, works at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center.

First Sgt. Eric Danz, a state police spokesman, said a preliminary investigation into the accident indicated that the tractor-trailer failed to stop for a red light at the intersection.

Ronnie LeGore, chief of the Winfield Community Fire Department, said the truck struck a glancing blow to the Pontiac, but knocked the car into and around a utility pole at the intersection.

LeGore, whose two children attended Winfield Elementary, said Mathias helped implement the "Learn Not To Burn" fire prevention program at the school.

"He was always very concerned about the children," LeGore said. "He was most helpful to members of the fire company during Fire Prevention Week every year."

The investigation is continuing and will be reviewed by the state's attorney's office, Danz said.

It was the second fatal accident on Woodbine Road near Winfield within two days.

About 2: 15 a.m. Saturday, John Yelton, 26, of Westminster was killed when the 1987 Ford Thunderbird in which he was a passenger left northbound Woodbine Road near Buckhorn Road and crashed into a house and two parked cars. The driver of the Thunderbird, Donna F. Cianci, 35, of Westminster, was injured. Charges against her were pending.

Nine people have died on Carroll County roads this year. Nineteen died in 17 accidents last year.

Pub Date: 5/12/98

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